Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Jesus said, "One Of You Is About To Betray Me." --- Is It I, Lord?

Wednesday of Holy Week
Reading I
Isaiah 50:4-9a
The Lord GOD has given me
a well-trained tongue,
That I might know how to speak to the weary
a word that will rouse them.
Morning after morning
he opens my ear that I may hear;
And I have not rebelled,
have not turned back.
I gave my back to those who beat me,
my cheeks to those who plucked my beard;
My face I did not shield
from buffets and spitting.

The Lord GOD is my help,
therefore I am not disgraced;
I have set my face like flint,
knowing that I shall not be put to shame.
He is near who upholds my right;
if anyone wishes to oppose me,
let us appear together.
Who disputes my right?
Let him confront me.
See, the Lord GOD is my help;
who will prove me wrong?
The Third Song of the Servant of Yahweh.

Another ‘Servant’ passage from Isaiah which speaks very graphically of what Jesus will go through in his passion. God provides his Servant with the words he needs to speak, especially for those who need encouragement. And Jesus will speak words of encouragement to his disciples before his Passion. He will speak to the women who sympathise with him on the way to Calvary.

“The Lord Yahweh has given me a disciple’s tongue… to give a word of comfort to the weary.” Jesus is the Word of God, communicating God’s love and encouragement. Later, Jesus will say: “Come to me, all of you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your spirit” (Matthew 11:28-29).

“He makes my ear alert, to listen like a disciple… has opened my ear and I have not resisted.” A way of describing the total submission of Jesus to his Father. “Even though he was God’s Son, he learned through his sufferings to be obedient” (Hebrews 5:8). “He emptied himself, taking the form of a slave…” (Philippians 2:7). In this he is in contrast to a rebellious Israel. In the Gospel, Jesus tells frequently tells his disciples to listen; in other words, to submit totally to the Way of life to which he is calling them.

“I have not resisted, I have not turned away…” This will be described in greater detail in the Fourth Song. The Servant willingly submits to insults and beatings and will not return in kind. To do so would be to bring himself down to the level of his attackers. Plucking the beard was a great insult. He offers his back for a beating, something given only to criminals and fools. This, of course, will happen during the scourging. Similarly for the mocking and spitting. It requires great inner strength not to respond in kind to such provocation. But when it is undergone with dignity, it is the attacker who seems small.

The Servant makes no resistance to his attackers. He will not meet violence with violence. He will not resist when he is beaten, when his beard is plucked, when he is struck and spat upon. However, it must be made very clear that this is not weakness but a sign of great inner strength and peace.

“Lord Yahweh comes to my help, this is why insult has not touched me, this is why I have set my face like flint and know that I will not be put to shame.” God comes to his help so that he is “untouched by the insults”. This is the sign of the inner security and strength. Insults and violence cannot change the inner reality of the person. And ultimately the Lord is on his side. Insults are either true or false. If they are true, they are not really insults but simply a statement of fact. If they are false, they can be ignored. In either case, to respond with violence is to show weakness and insecurity.

He meets insults and physical attacks with firmness. He will not be turned away from the way that the Father is asking him to go. Knowing that the ultimate outcome will not be shame but vindication and glory. “The Lord God is my help.” Towards the end of his public life, we are told that Jesus “resolutely set his face to go to Jerusalem” (Luke 9:51)

“Who has a case against me? Let us appear in court together!… Look, Lord Yahweh is coming to my help!” Jesus is perfectly innocent of all the charges thrown against him. He has no fear of court proceedings, even when they are corrupt. Final vindication will be his.

We could reflect today on how we respond to criticisms, statements about us we regard as unfair or untrue. Are we prone to violence - physical or verbal? And, even if we do not respond externally, do we allow statements and events to turn us into cauldrons of anger, hatred, anxiety and tension?

The way of Jesus is the way to peace.
+++ +++ +++ +++
Psalm 69
Lord, in your great love, answer me.
For your sake I bear insult,
and shame covers my face.
I have become an outcast to my brothers,
a stranger to my mother’s sons,
because zeal for your house consumes me,
and the insults of those who blaspheme you fall upon me.
Lord, in your great love, answer me.
Insult has broken my heart, and I am weak,
I looked for sympathy, but there was none;
for consolers, not one could I find.
Rather they put gall in my food,
and in my thirst they gave me vinegar to drink.
Lord, in your great love, answer me.
I will praise the name of God in song,
and I will glorify him with thanksgiving:
“See, you lowly ones, and be glad;
you who seek God, may your hearts revive!
For the LORD hears the poor,
and his own who are in bonds he spurns not.”
Lord, in your great love, answer me.
+++ +++ +++ +++
Matthew 26:14-25

One of the Twelve, who was called Judas Iscariot,
went to the chief priests and said,
“What are you willing to give me
if I hand him over to you?”
They paid him thirty pieces of silver,
and from that time on he looked
for an opportunity to hand him over.

On the first day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread,
the disciples approached Jesus and said,
“Where do you want us to prepare
for you to eat the Passover?”
He said,
“Go into the city to a certain man and tell him,
‘The teacher says,
My appointed time draws near; in your house
I shall celebrate the Passover with my disciples.”‘“
The disciples then did as Jesus had ordered,
and prepared the Passover.

When it was evening,
he reclined at table with the Twelve.
And while they were eating, he said,
“Amen, I say to you, one of you is about to betray me.”
Deeply distressed at this,
they began to say to him one after another,
“Is is I, Lord?”
He said in reply,
“He who has dipped his hand into the dish with me
is the one who will betray me.
The Son of Man indeed goes,
as it is written of him,
but woe to that man
by whom the Son of Man is betrayed.
It would be better for that man
if he had never been born.”
Then Judas, his betrayer, said in reply,
“Surely it is not I, Rabbi?”
He answered, “You have said so.”
The stage is being set for the final drama of Jesus’ mission. Judas has gone to the chief priests to make a deal for handing Jesus over to them. This term ‘handing over’ is like a refrain all through the Gospel and reaches a climax here. John the Baptist was handed over. Now we see Jesus being handed over - the term occurs three times in today’s passage. Later, the followers of Jesus will also be handed over into the hands of those who want to put an end to their mission.

Judas sells his master, hands him over, for 30 pieces of silver. Only Matthew mentions the actual sum given to Judas. The sum derives from a passage in Zechariah (11:11-13), where it is the wages paid to the shepherd (Zechariah himself) rejected by the people. He is then told by God to throw the money into the Temple treasury as a sign of God’s rejecting those who reject him. (Judas, too, will throw back the money to the priests after realising what he has done.) What people will do for money! Judas is not alone. What he did is happening every day. Perhaps I, too, have betrayed and handed over Jesus more than once.

On the first day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread, Jesus’ disciples ask him where he wants to celebrate the Passover. Little do they know the significance of this Passover for Jesus - and for them.

The Feast of Unleavened Bread and the Passover are closely linked but there is a distinction between them. The Passover was the commemoration of the Israelites being liberated from slavery in Egypt, their escape through the Red Sea (the Sea of Reeds?) and the beginning of their long trek to the Promised Land. The feast began at sunset after the Passover lamb had been sacrificed in the temple on the afternoon of the 14th day of the month Nisan. Associated with this on the same evening was the eating of unleavened bread - the bread that Jesus would use when he said over it “This is my Body”. The eating of this bread continued for a whole week (until Nisan 21) as a reminder of the sufferings the Israelites underwent and the hastiness of their departure. It was a celebration of thanks to God for the past and of hope for the future.

Jesus tells the disciples they are to contact a man who will provide all that they need for a Passover meal. During the meal Jesus drops the bombshell: “One of you is about to betray me (in the Greek, ‘hand me over’). It is revealing that none of them points a finger at someone else. “Is it I, Lord?” Each one realises that he is a potential betrayer of Jesus. And, in fact, in the midst of the crisis they will all abandon him.

Nor is it one of his many enemies who will hand Jesus over. No, it is one of the Twelve, it is someone who has dipped his hand into the same dish with Jesus, a sign of friendship and solidarity.

All of this has been foretold in the Scriptures but how sad it is for the person who has to take this role, even though it is a role he has deliberately chosen. There is a certain cynicism when Judas asks with an air of injured innocence, “Not I, Rabbi, surely?” “You have said so,” is Jesus’ brief reply.

The whole approaching drama is now set in motion.

Let us watch it carefully during the coming three days not just as spectators but as participants. We too have so often betrayed Jesus, we too have so often broken bread with Jesus and perhaps have sold him for money, out of ambition, out of greed, out of anger, hatred, revenge or even violence for our own personal gain.

We can, like Judas, either abandon him in despair or, like Peter, come back to him with tears of repentance.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Jesus Said: "One Of You Will Betray Me. Before The Cock Crows, You Will Deny Me."

Tuesday of Holy Week
Reading I
Isaiah 49:1-6
Hear me, O islands,
listen, O distant peoples.
The Lord called me from birth,
from my mother’s womb he gave me my name.
He made of me a sharp-edged sword
and concealed me in the shadow of his arm.
He made me a polished arrow,
in his quiver he hid me.
You are my servant, he said to me,
Israel, through whom I show my glory.

Though I thought I had toiled in vain,
and for nothing, uselessly, spent my strength,
Yet my reward is with the Lord,
my recompense is with my God.
For now the Lord has spoken
who formed me as his servant from the womb,
That Jacob may be brought back to him
and Israel gathered to him;
And I am made glorious in the sight of the Lord,
and my God is now my strength!
It is too little, he says, for you to be my servant,
to raise up the tribes of Jacob,
and restore the survivors of Israel;
I will make you a light to the nations,
that my salvation may reach to the ends of the earth.
Today we read the Second Song of the Servant of Yahweh.

The prophet again speaks in words that apply very suitably to Jesus. Jesus has been called from all eternity to do this work of salvation. He is a “sharp-edged sword” and a “polished arrow”.

God says, “You are my servant in whom I shall be glorified” but Jesus must surely be tempted to say, with Isaiah, “I have toiled in vain, I have exhausted myself for nothing.” Surely it must have looked like that as Jesus hung dying on the cross, his mission a shambles, his enemies victorious and his disciples in total flight. On the cross, Jesus cried out with these heart-rending words: “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?”

Yet he had been chosen as a servant so that “Jacob”, i.e. Israel, might be brought back to him. And finally he will be made “glorious in the sight of the Lord” and his God is his strength.

His moments of darkness become the moment of glory. “I will make you the light of the nations, so that my salvation may reach to the ends of the earth.” As indeed has happened. But who, standing at the foot of the cross on that first Good Friday, could have seen the outcome of this ‘failure’?

Yet, that is what we celebrate during this week.

“Coasts and islands…distant peoples.” These are the lands along the Mediterranean and beyond the seas, whom we saw mentioned yesterday. The message of the Servant is for them - and hence for all of us, for me.

“Yahweh called me when I was in the womb, before my birth he had pronounced my name.” The language is similar to that of the call of the prophet Jeremiah (1:5) and of Paul (Galatians 1:15). And, as Christians, we believe that that is true of all of us. “Even before the world was made, God had already chosen us to be his through our union with Christ…” (Ephesians 1:4).

"He made my mouth like a sharp sword… made me into a sharpened arrow…” Later, the Letter to the Hebrews will compare the Word of God to a two-edged sword, which penetrates into the deepest recesses of our hearts, bringing both consolation, wisdom and discomfort for our wrongdoings.

“Israel, you are my servant.” Israel here is generally understood not of the nation but of an individual, representing the best that Israel should be. Perhaps we, too, should be less arrogant when we apply the term ‘Christian’ to ourselves, knowing how far we are from what Jesus is calling us to be.

“I said, ‘My toil has been futile, I have exhausted myself for nothing to no purpose.” As he hung on the cross, his mission apparently a failure and mocked by those bent on destroying him, these words would seem to fit Jesus so well. It will be in the Third and Fourth Songs that we will begin to see the place of all the pain and suffering in the mission of Jesus.

“Yet all the while my cause was with Yahweh and my reward with my God.” In spite of apparent failure, the cause of Jesus will be vindicated and his mission a success. “Yahweh…formed me in the womb to be his servant.” And the Servant carried out that call to the very end and with wondrous results. We, too, have been in the mind of God from eternity and been given a special call. How do I see that call at this time?

“To bring back Jacob…and to re-unite Israel” - a reference to the release from captivity in Babylon and the return to Jerusalem. But there is the wider connotation of bringing God’s people back to union with him.

And it will not be just Israel because a little further on the passages says: “I shall make you a light to the nations, so that my salvation may reach to the remotest parts of the earth.” The Servant’s mission is the conversion of the whole world to his Way. Together with Genesis 12:1-3; Exodus 19:5-6, this verse is sometimes called the “great commission of the Old Testament” and is quoted in part by Paul and Barnabas in Acts 13:47. Christ is the light of the world (Luke 2:30-32; John 8:12; 9:5) and Christians reflect his light (Matthew 5:14).

“You are like salt for all mankind… You are like light for the whole world.” Is that the way I see myself? Let me hear Jesus say these words to me as I watch him on the Cross during these days.
+++    +++    +++    +++
Psalm 71
I will sing of your salvation.
In you, O LORD, I take refuge;
let me never be put to shame.
In your justice rescue me, and deliver me;
incline your ear to me, and save me.
I will sing of your salvation.
Be my rock of refuge,
a stronghold to give me safety,
for you are my rock and my fortress.
O my God, rescue me from the hand of the wicked.
I will sing of your salvation.
For you are my hope, O Lord;
my trust, O God, from my youth.
On you I depend from birth;
from my mother’s womb you are my strength.
I will sing of your salvation.
My mouth shall declare your justice,
day by day your salvation.
O God, you have taught me from my youth,
and till the present I proclaim your wondrous deeds.
I will sing of your salvation.
+++    +++    +++    +++   
John 13:21-33, 36-38
Reclining at table with his disciples,
Jesus was deeply troubled and testified,
“Amen, amen, I say to you, one of you will betray me.”
The disciples looked at one another,
at a loss as to whom he meant.
One of his disciples, the one whom Jesus loved,
was reclining at Jesus’ side.
So Simon Peter nodded to him
to find out whom he meant.
He leaned back against Jesus’ chest and said to him,
“Master, who is it?”
Jesus answered,
“It is the one to whom I hand the morsel
after I have dipped it.”
So he dipped the morsel
and took it and handed it to Judas,
son of Simon the Iscariot.
After Judas took the morsel, Satan entered him.
So Jesus said to him,
 “What you are going to do, do quickly.”
Now none of those reclining at table
realized why he said this to him.
Some thought that since Judas kept the money bag,
Jesus had told him, “Buy what we need for the feast,”
or to give something to the poor.
So Judas took the morsel and left at once.
And it was night.

When he had left, Jesus said,
“Now is the Son of Man glorified,
and God is glorified in him.
If God is glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself,
and he will glorify him at once.
My children, I will be with you only a little while longer.
You will look for me, and as I told the Jews,
‘Where I go you cannot come,’ so now I say it to you.”

Simon Peter said to him, “Master, where are you going?”
Jesus answered him,
“Where I am going, you cannot follow me now,
though you will follow later.”
Peter said to him,
“Master, why can I not follow you now?
I will lay down my life for you.”
Jesus answered, “Will you lay down your life for me?
Amen, amen, I say to you, the cock will not crow
before you deny me three times.”
A sad moment in the Gospel: double betrayal.

First, that of Judas. Judas is no outsider but one of the inner circle of the Twelve.

Jesus announces solemnly: “One of you is going to hand me over.” The statement comes like a bombshell. For all their weaknesses, they cannot imagine any one of them planning such a thing. Peter asks the Beloved Disciple, who is closest to Jesus to find out who it is. “It is the one to whom I hand the piece of bread after dipping it in the dish,” says Jesus.

Jesus hands over the morsel, a symbol of sharing. It is probably part of the bitter herb, dipped in salt water which was a feature of the Passover meal. Jesus hands it over to the one who will hand him over to those who wish to be rid of him. This is an act of friendship which makes the coming betrayal doubly treacherous. The bitterness of the morsel is also significant.

In that very moment Judas knows he has made his fateful decision as Jesus tells him, “What you are going to do, do quickly.” None of the other disciples realised the significance of the words.

As soon as he has left, it is no wonder that the evangelist comments: “Night had fallen.” Yes indeed. It was a moment of utter darkness. This is a gospel which constantly contrasts light and darkness. Yet at that very moment which sets the whole passion experience in motion, Jesus speaks of his being glorified and of God also being glorified.

To do this, Jesus is going to leave his disciples. He will leave them in death but he will also leave them to return to the glory of his Father.

Peter, well-meaning but weak, swears that he will go all the way with Jesus, even to death. It is the second betrayal. Worse in some ways. At least Judas made no wild promises. What will save Peter will be the depth of his repentance and later conversion.

We too have betrayed Jesus and those around us so many times. We have broken bread with Jesus in the Eucharist and then turned our back on him by the way we treat those around us. We have promised at confession with his help never to sin again and then gone and done what we have just confessed.

Let us pray that we, like Peter, may weep bitterly for all the wrongs we have done and all the good left undone.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Here Is My Chosen One, Who Shall Bring Forth Justice To The Nations.

Monday of Holy Week
Reading I
Isaiah 42:1-7
Here is my servant whom I uphold,
my chosen one with whom I am pleased,
Upon whom I have put my Spirit;
he shall bring forth justice to the nations,
Not crying out, not shouting,
not making his voice heard in the street.
A bruised reed he shall not break,
and a smoldering wick he shall not quench,
Until he establishes justice on the earth;
the coastlands will wait for his teaching.

Thus says God, the LORD,
who created the heavens and stretched them out,
who spreads out the earth with its crops,
Who gives breath to its people
and spirit to those who walk on it:
I, the LORD, have called you
for the victory of justice,
I have grasped you by the hand;
I formed you, and set you
as a covenant of the people,
a light for the nations,
To open the eyes of the blind,
to bring out prisoners from confinement,
and from the dungeon, those who live in darkness.
“The Suffering Servant represents the finest qualities of Israel and her great leaders. In today's song he is a ‘chosen one’ like Moses, David, and all Israel. As the Servant, he fulfils the role of Davidic king and prophet.”

Today we have the first of four songs of the servant of Yahweh from Isaiah. It is a beautiful description of a mysterious servant of God which the Church has long realised applies so aptly to Jesus.

The passage today is taken from the ‘Book of Consolation’, or Second Isaiah (chapters 40-55). It speaks of Israel as a ‘Servant of Yahweh’, chosen, set apart, to act as God’s witness before the nations. But the four ‘Songs of the Servant of Yahweh’ (42:1-9; 49:1-6; 50:4-11; 52:13-53:12) present a mysterious ‘servant’ who in some ways is like the servant-Israel of the other passages. In today’s passage, however, he is distinguished from the servant-Israel and shown to have other qualities which show him as a particular individual.

Called by Yahweh while still in his mother’s womb, ‘formed’ by him, filled with his spirit, the servant is a ‘disciple’ and Yahweh has opened his ears, so that, by establishing justice on earth, he may instruct mankind, sort them and judge them by his word. He performs his task gently and without display, even appears to fail in it. He accepts outrage and contempt; he does not succumb because Yahweh sustains him.

“Here is my servant.” Yahweh is speaking. He designates and consecrates the Servant. In the royal terminology of the ancient Near East “servant” could mean something like “trusted envoy” or “confidential representative”.

Jesus, too, called himself a ‘servant’ - “The Son of Man did not come to be served; he came to serve and to give his life to redeem many people” (Mark 10:45). He gave a dramatic example when he knelt down and washed his disciples’ feet at the Last Supper (John 13:1-17).

He will not only ‘gather’ Israel but he will be the light of the nations everywhere. The New Testament, cf. Luke 4:17-21 sees Jesus as this servant: in his person the attributes of the King-Messiah, Son of David, are united with those of the suffering servant.

In the previous chapter King Cyrus of Persia had been introduced as delivering Israel from captivity in Babylon but the Servant would deliver the whole world from the prison of sin.

The passage speaks of gentleness and non-violence, a message so necessary for our time. Gentle, but not weak or passive.

* “He does not cry out or raise his voice.” He is a bringer of harmony and peace, not of noise and turmoil.
* “He does not break the crushed reed or snuff the faltering wick.” He does not exploit the weak in a false show of power but empowers through bringing healing and wholeness to the frail and the weak. Just what Jesus did in his mission to the people. 
*“He will not grow faint, he will not be crushed, until true justice is established on earth.” In his gentleness and compassion, there is no weakness. There is a great inner strength but a total rejection of violence. A passage which Matthew quotes in his gospel (Matthew 12:18-21). 
*“The coasts and islands are awaiting for his instruction.” Indicating the lands of the Mediterranean and, by implication, the pagan lands lying beyond Israel. The Servant has a mission to all, not just to some.

Then comes the special call made by Yahweh to the Servant:

*“I have called you in saving justice”, similar to the call made earlier to King Cyrus, who will deliver the Jews from their Babylonian exile and allow them to return home.
*“I have taken you by the hand and formed you.” In Hebrew the same term is used in the creation story of Genesis to describe Yahweh ‘forming’, ‘modelling’ the body of the first man. Jesus, of course, is the New Adam. 
*"I have made you a covenant of the people and light to the nations…” Jesus as Messiah will inaugurate the New Covenant by his suffering and death, a covenant now embracing peoples everywhere. We will see that more clearly when we read more of the Suffering Servant during Holy Week.

This Servant has been called by God the creator of all things to do God’s work and carry out his will. He will be “a light of the nations” and will “open the eyes of the blind, free captives from prison and those who live in darkness from the dungeon”. Originally this referred to release from the prison of the Babylonian exile but it also indicates the hope of liberation for every person from all spiritual and moral bondage.

As we begin Holy Week we are reminded that this work of God’s servant, which we also are, has to go on through us. We are not here this week just to be spectators, even grateful spectators. We are to be part of the work which the Paschal Mystery inaugurated. We, too, are to be servants, ready, if necessary, to suffer as Jesus did for the sake of our brothers and sisters.
+++    +++    +++    +++
Psalm 27
The Lord is my light and my salvation.
The LORD is my light and my salvation;
whom should I fear?
The LORD is my life’s refuge;
of whom should I be afraid?
The Lord is my light and my salvation.
When evildoers come at me
to devour my flesh,
My foes and my enemies
themselves stumble and fall.
The Lord is my light and my salvation.
Though an army encamp against me,
my heart will not fear;
Though war be waged upon me,
even then will I trust.
The Lord is my light and my salvation.
I believe that I shall see the bounty of the LORD
in the land of the living.
Wait for the LORD with courage;
be stouthearted, and wait for the LORD.
The Lord is my light and my salvation.
+++    +++    +++    +++
John 12:1-11
Six days before Passover Jesus came to Bethany,
where Lazarus was,
whom Jesus had raised from the dead.
They gave a dinner for him there, and Martha served,
while Lazarus was one of those reclining at table with him.
Mary took a liter of costly perfumed oil
made from genuine aromatic nard
and anointed the feet of Jesus and dried them with her hair;
the house was filled with the fragrance of the oil.
Then Judas the Iscariot, one of his disciples,
and the one who would betray him, said,
“Why was this oil not sold for three hundred days’ wages
and given to the poor?”
He said this not because he cared about the poor
but because he was a thief and held the money bag
and used to steal the contributions.
So Jesus said, “Leave her alone.
Let her keep this for the day of my burial.
You always have the poor with you,
but you do not always have me.”

The large crowd of the Jews found out that he was there
and came, not only because of him,
but also to see Lazarus,
whom he had raised from the dead.
And the chief priests plotted to kill Lazarus too,
because many of the Jews were turning away
and believing in Jesus because of him.
Today’s Gospel serves as a prelude to the Passion of Jesus.

Jesus is back in the house of his friends, Mary, Martha and Lazarus, recently brought back from the dead. Perhaps these are his last moments of companionship before the horrors that are to come. True to character, Martha is the active hostess. Mary, the contemplative, brings in a jar of an expensive perfumed unguent and pours it all over the feet of Jesus, filling the house with its fragrance. It is a sign of great love and echoes what the “sinful” woman in Luke’s gospel also did. This account is probably the same as that described in Mark 14:3-9 and Matthew 26:6-13 but is distinct from the story of the woman in Luke 7:36-50.

While the “Beloved Disciple” is a nameless character in John’s gospel, he can be matched by this beloved disciple.

Judas, the spiritually blind materialist, only sees what he regards as terrible waste. Hypocritically he suggests the money would have been better spent helping the poor. John suggests Judas was more interested in getting the money for himself than sharing it with those in need.

Jesus sees an altogether different meaning in Mary’s action. He sees the tremendous love behind the action and interprets it as a symbolical anointing for his burial. Dying as a common criminal, Jesus would normally not have been anointed. (And, in fact, he was not anointed after his burial; when the women went to do the act on Sunday morning, Jesus was already risen.)

“You have the poor with you always, you will not always have me.” This is not to be understood any cynical way. The poor cannot be truly loved except in God and in Jesus.

“As often as you do it to the least of these my brothers and sisters, you do it to me.” Only those who truly love God (whatever name they call him) are able truly to love the poor and all those in need. And vice versa. Also, in Jewish tradition there was disagreement as to whether giving alms to the poor or burying the dead (which would include anointing) was the greater act of mercy. Those in favour of burial thought it an essential condition for sharing in the final resurrection.

Finally, we are told Lazarus’ own life is in danger as well as Jesus’. Lazarus is seen as the living sign of Jesus’ divine power and so they both must be wiped out. Many of the Church’s martyrs died for the same reason. The word ‘martyr’ means ‘witness’, witnessing to the truth, love and power of Christ.

Am I willing to be a martyr-witness for Christ, to stand beside him on the cross as he is mocked and insulted? This is the week for me to find the answer to that question.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Lord, Remember Me When You Come Into Your Kingdom!

Palm Sunday of the Lord’s Passion
Reading I
Isaiah 50:4-7
The Lord GOD has given me
a well-trained tongue,
that I might know how to speak to the weary
a word that will rouse them.
Morning after morning
he opens my ear that I may hear;
and I have not rebelled,
have not turned back.
I gave my back to those who beat me,
my cheeks to those who plucked my beard;
my face I did not shield
from buffets and spitting.

The Lord GOD is my help,
therefore I am not disgraced;
I have set my face like flint,
knowing that I shall not be put to shame.
+++    +++    +++    +++   
Psalm 22
My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?
All who see me scoff at me;
they mock me with parted lips, they wag their heads:
“He relied on the LORD; let him deliver him,
let him rescue him, if he loves him.”
My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?
Indeed, many dogs surround me,
a pack of evildoers closes in upon me;
They have pierced my hands and my feet;
I can count all my bones.
My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?
They divide my garments among them,
and for my vesture they cast lots.
But you, O LORD, be not far from me;
O my help, hasten to aid me.
My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?
I will proclaim your name to my brethren;
in the midst of the assembly I will praise you:
“You who fear the LORD, praise him;
all you descendants of Jacob, give glory to him;
revere him, all you descendants of Israel!”
My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?
+++    +++    +++    +++   
Reading II
Phillipians 2:6-11
Christ Jesus, though he was in the form of God,
did not regard equality with God
something to be grasped.
Rather, he emptied himself,
taking the form of a slave,
coming in human likeness;
and found human in appearance,
he humbled himself,
becoming obedient to the point of death,
even death on a cross.
Because of this, God greatly exalted him
and bestowed on him the name
which is above every name,
that at the name of Jesus
every knee should bend,
of those in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue confess that
Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.
Luke 22:14—23:56
When the hour came,
Jesus took his place at table with the apostles.
He said to them,
“I have eagerly desired
to eat this Passover with you before I suffer,
for, I tell you, I shall not eat it again
until there is fulfillment in the kingdom of God.”
Then he took a cup, gave thanks, and said,
“Take this and share it among yourselves;
for I tell you that from this time on
I shall not drink of the fruit of the vine
until the kingdom of God comes.”
Then he took the bread, said the blessing,
broke it, and gave it to them, saying,
“This is my body, which will be given for you;
do this in memory of me.”
And likewise the cup after they had eaten, saying,
“This cup is the new covenant in my blood,
which will be shed for you.

“And yet behold, the hand of the one who is to betray me
is with me on the table;
for the Son of Man indeed goes as it has been determined;
but woe to that man by whom he is betrayed.”
And they began to debate among themselves
who among them would do such a deed.

Then an argument broke out among them
about which of them should be regarded as the greatest.
He said to them,
“The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them
and those in authority over them are addressed as ‘Benefactors’;
but among you it shall not be so.
Rather, let the greatest among you be as the youngest,
and the leader as the servant.
For who is greater:
the one seated at table or the one who serves?
Is it not the one seated at table?
I am among you as the one who serves.
It is you who have stood by me in my trials;
and I confer a kingdom on you,
just as my Father has conferred one on me,
that you may eat and drink at my table in my kingdom;
and you will sit on thrones
judging the twelve tribes of Israel.

“Simon, Simon, behold Satan has demanded
to sift all of you like wheat,
but I have prayed that your own faith may not fail;
and once you have turned back,
you must strengthen your brothers.”
He said to him,
“Lord, I am prepared to go to prison and to die with you.”
But he replied,
“I tell you, Peter, before the cock crows this day,
you will deny three times that you know me.”

He said to them,
“When I sent you forth without a money bag or a sack or sandals,
were you in need of anything?”
“No, nothing, “ they replied.
He said to them,
“But now one who has a money bag should take it,
and likewise a sack,
and one who does not have a sword
should sell his cloak and buy one.
For I tell you that this Scripture must be fulfilled in me,
namely, He was counted among the wicked;
and indeed what is written about me is coming to fulfillment.”
Then they said,
“Lord, look, there are two swords here.”
But he replied, “It is enough!”

Then going out, he went, as was his custom, to the Mount of Olives,
and the disciples followed him.
When he arrived at the place he said to them,
“Pray that you may not undergo the test.”
After withdrawing about a stone’s throw from them and kneeling,
he prayed, saying, “Father, if you are willing,
take this cup away from me;
still, not my will but yours be done.”
And to strengthen him an angel from heaven appeared to him.
He was in such agony and he prayed so fervently
that his sweat became like drops of blood
falling on the ground.
When he rose from prayer and returned to his disciples,
he found them sleeping from grief.
He said to them, “Why are you sleeping?
Get up and pray that you may not undergo the test.”

While he was still speaking, a crowd approached
and in front was one of the Twelve, a man named Judas.
He went up to Jesus to kiss him.
Jesus said to him,
“Judas, are you betraying the Son of Man with a kiss?”
His disciples realized what was about to happen, and they asked,
“Lord, shall we strike with a sword?”
And one of them struck the high priest’s servant
and cut off his right ear.
But Jesus said in reply,
“Stop, no more of this!”
Then he touched the servant’s ear and healed him.
And Jesus said to the chief priests and temple guards
and elders who had come for him,
“Have you come out as against a robber, with swords and clubs?
Day after day I was with you in the temple area,
and you did not seize me;
but this is your hour, the time for the power of darkness.”

After arresting him they led him away
and took him into the house of the high priest;
Peter was following at a distance.
They lit a fire in the middle of the courtyard and sat around it,
and Peter sat down with them.
When a maid saw him seated in the light,
she looked intently at him and said,
“This man too was with him.”
But he denied it saying,
“Woman, I do not know him.”
A short while later someone else saw him and said,
“You too are one of them”;
but Peter answered, “My friend, I am not.”
About an hour later, still another insisted,
“Assuredly, this man too was with him,
for he also is a Galilean.”
But Peter said,
“My friend, I do not know what you are talking about.”
Just as he was saying this, the cock crowed,
and the Lord turned and looked at Peter;
and Peter remembered the word of the Lord,
how he had said to him,
“Before the cock crows today, you will deny me three times.”
He went out and began to weep bitterly.
The men who held Jesus in custody were ridiculing and beating him.
They blindfolded him and questioned him, saying,
“Prophesy! Who is it that struck you?”
And they reviled him in saying many other things against him.

When day came the council of elders of the people met,
both chief priests and scribes,
and they brought him before their Sanhedrin.
They said, “If you are the Christ, tell us, “
but he replied to them, “If I tell you, you will not believe,
and if I question, you will not respond.
But from this time on the Son of Man will be seated
at the right hand of the power of God.”
They all asked, “Are you then the Son of God?”
He replied to them, “You say that I am.”
Then they said, “What further need have we for testimony?
We have heard it from his own mouth.”

Then the whole assembly of them arose and brought him before Pilate.
They brought charges against him, saying,
“We found this man misleading our people;
he opposes the payment of taxes to Caesar
and maintains that he is the Christ, a king.”
Pilate asked him, “Are you the king of the Jews?”
He said to him in reply, “You say so.”
Pilate then addressed the chief priests and the crowds,
“I find this man not guilty.”
But they were adamant and said,
“He is inciting the people with his teaching throughout all Judea,
from Galilee where he began even to here.”

On hearing this Pilate asked if the man was a Galilean;
and upon learning that he was under Herod’s jurisdiction,
he sent him to Herod who was in Jerusalem at that time.
Herod was very glad to see Jesus;
he had been wanting to see him for a long time,
for he had heard about him
and had been hoping to see him perform some sign.
He questioned him at length,
but he gave him no answer.
The chief priests and scribes, meanwhile,
stood by accusing him harshly.
Herod and his soldiers treated him contemptuously and mocked him,
and after clothing him in resplendent garb,
he sent him back to Pilate.
Herod and Pilate became friends that very day,
even though they had been enemies formerly.
Pilate then summoned the chief priests, the rulers, and the people
and said to them, “You brought this man to me
and accused him of inciting the people to revolt.
I have conducted my investigation in your presence
and have not found this man guilty
of the charges you have brought against him,
nor did Herod, for he sent him back to us.
So no capital crime has been committed by him.
Therefore I shall have him flogged and then release him.”

But all together they shouted out,
“Away with this man!
Release Barabbas to us.”
— Now Barabbas had been imprisoned for a rebellion
that had taken place in the city and for murder. —
Again Pilate addressed them, still wishing to release Jesus,
but they continued their shouting,
“Crucify him! Crucify him!”
Pilate addressed them a third time,
“What evil has this man done?
I found him guilty of no capital crime.
Therefore I shall have him flogged and then release him.”
With loud shouts, however,
they persisted in calling for his crucifixion,
and their voices prevailed.
The verdict of Pilate was that their demand should be granted.
So he released the man who had been imprisoned
for rebellion and murder, for whom they asked,
and he handed Jesus over to them to deal with as they wished.

As they led him away
they took hold of a certain Simon, a Cyrenian,
who was coming in from the country;
and after laying the cross on him,
they made him carry it behind Jesus.
A large crowd of people followed Jesus,
including many women who mourned and lamented him.
Jesus turned to them and said,
“Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me;
weep instead for yourselves and for your children
for indeed, the days are coming when people will say,
‘Blessed are the barren,
the wombs that never bore
and the breasts that never nursed.’
At that time people will say to the mountains,
‘Fall upon us!’
and to the hills, ‘Cover us!’
for if these things are done when the wood is green
what will happen when it is dry?”
Now two others, both criminals,
were led away with him to be executed.

When they came to the place called the Skull,
they crucified him and the criminals there,
one on his right, the other on his left.
Then Jesus said,
“Father, forgive them, they know not what they do.”
They divided his garments by casting lots.
The people stood by and watched;
the rulers, meanwhile, sneered at him and said,
“He saved others, let him save himself
if he is the chosen one, the Christ of God.”
Even the soldiers jeered at him.
As they approached to offer him wine they called out,
“If you are King of the Jews, save yourself.”
Above him there was an inscription that read,
“This is the King of the Jews.”

Now one of the criminals hanging there reviled Jesus, saying,
“Are you not the Christ?
Save yourself and us.”
The other, however, rebuking him, said in reply,
“Have you no fear of God,
for you are subject to the same condemnation?
And indeed, we have been condemned justly,
for the sentence we received corresponds to our crimes,
but this man has done nothing criminal.”
Then he said,
“Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”
He replied to him,
“Amen, I say to you,
today you will be with me in Paradise.”

It was now about noon and darkness came over the whole land
until three in the afternoon
because of an eclipse of the sun.
Then the veil of the temple was torn down the middle.
Jesus cried out in a loud voice,
“Father, into your hands I commend my spirit”;
and when he had said this he breathed his last.

The centurion who witnessed what had happened glorified God and said,
“This man was innocent beyond doubt.”
When all the people who had gathered for this spectacle saw what had happened,
they returned home beating their breasts;
but all his acquaintances stood at a distance,
including the women who had followed him from Galilee
and saw these events.
Now there was a virtuous and righteous man named Joseph who,
though he was a member of the council,
had not consented to their plan of action.
He came from the Jewish town of Arimathea
and was awaiting the kingdom of God.
He went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus.
After he had taken the body down,
he wrapped it in a linen cloth
and laid him in a rock-hewn tomb
in which no one had yet been buried.
It was the day of preparation,
and the sabbath was about to begin.
The women who had come from Galilee with him followed behind,
and when they had seen the tomb
and the way in which his body was laid in it,
they returned and prepared spices and perfumed oils.
Then they rested on the sabbath according to the commandment.
Welcome to Holy Week! We have just listened to St. Luke's account of Jesus' suffering and death. I hope you will take time this week to meditate on our Lord's Passion. One way of doing this is by reading the account slowly and trying to identify with various people: In what way am I like Peter? Or Pilate? Or Mary Magdalene?

As a help to meditating on the Passion, I would like to tell you about a man identified with the good thief. It is a true story and it contains an element of humor.

It happened that a missionary priest was saying Mass in a Peruvian prison. A friend had sent him a couple hundred rosaries. The priest knew that the prison help more than two hundred inmates, but he also knew that some of them were political prisoners. He presumed that because of their communist philosphy they would not want a rosary. After finishing the Mass, the priest asked those who desired a rosary to form a line. One by one he placed rosaries around their necks. The line of prisoners, however, seemed to grow rather than diminish. When he got to the last rosary, ten guys remained. The priest held up the rosary and said, "I am sorry. I do not know what to do."

One of the prisoners said, "Padre, you have to give that rosary to me."

"Why?" The priest asked.

"Look, Father, I am thief. I admit it. That is why I am here." Then he glanced toward those arrested for insurrection and said: "But I am not like these political guys. I am an honest thief!"

Well, even the "political guys" laughed and the priest placed the rosary over his head. He smiled, revealing his crooked teeth, then took the crucifix of the rosary in his hand, raised it to his lips and kissed it.

One of the two men crucified with Jesus was also an "honest thief." He was brave enough to confess who he was. If we were honest, we would also admit we had taken things that do not belong to us. You know, it is not just the one who steals money or shoplifts who is a thief. The person who has sex apart from marriage is taking something that does not belong to him. Even if you call it "living together" it is still stealing. The same with the husband who spends all his time with buddies; he is robbing his wife and children. The person whose motto is "shop till I drop" and who never thinks about the needy is stealing from the poor. I could multiply examples until everyone here, including the one speaking to you, recognizes he is a thief.

This is not a question of a "guilt trip." It's a simple matter of saying to Jesus who we really are. The second criminal refused to do that. All his life he had practiced "self-reliance." Now he had one final opportunity to put aside that false self, to rely instead on God. But he chose to mock Jesus. Perhaps he thought, "no one has a right to judge me." He didn't realize the only just judge hung next to him.

It's possible to be so convinced of own rightness that we lose everything. The first step requires courage and honesty to face who we are. A good companion for us this Holy Week is the honest thief. The Church recognizes "the good thief" as a saint - Saint Dismas. Like him, we appeal to Jesus, "Remember me." (Luke 23:42)

With those words on our lips, we will make it to Easter Sunday. Imagine what it would be like to hear: "today you will be with me in paradise." No more struggles, no more tears, but forever with Jesus in the great Communion of Saints.

If we say to Jesus, "remember me," we will have the final victory. As a reminder of that victory, I encourage you to take home your blessed palm branch. It symbolizes Christ's triumph. Place it behind the crucifix in your bedroom or living room. It will remind you of the good thief, who in great suffering also experienced great joy. By meditating on his example, we can overcome bitterness - and grow in humility, even in humor. Saint Dismas, pray for us.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Caiaphas said, "It Is Better For One Man To Die For The People, Than For The Nation To Be Destroyed"

Saturday of the Fifth Week of Lent
Reading I
Ezekiel 37:21-28
Thus says the Lord GOD:
I will take the children of Israel from among the nations
to which they have come,
and gather them from all sides
to bring them back to their land.
I will make them one nation upon the land,
in the mountains of Israel,
and there shall be one prince for them all.
Never again shall they be two nations,
and never again shall they be divided
into two kingdoms.

No longer shall they defile themselves with their idols,
their abominations, and all their transgressions.
I will deliver them from all their sins of apostasy,
and cleanse them so that they may be my people
and I may be their God.
My servant David shall be prince over them,
and there shall be one shepherd for them all;
they shall live by my statutes
and carefully observe my decrees.
They shall live on the land that I gave to my servant Jacob,
the land where their fathers lived;
they shall live on it forever,
they, and their children, and their children’s children,
with my servant David their prince forever.
I will make with them a covenant of peace;
it shall be an everlasting covenant with them,
and I will multiply them,
and put my sanctuary among them forever.

My dwelling shall be with them;
I will be their God, and they shall be my people.
Thus the nations shall know that it is I, the LORD,
who make Israel holy,
when my sanctuary shall be set up among them forever.
“The union of all tribes is a frequent element in messianic prophecy. God is to unite the nation in a new covenant in which there are five essential elements:
          - Yahweh, its God
          - Israel, his people
          - Life, ‘on the land where their fathers lived’
            - ‘My sanctuary among them’,
                      as a sign of the presence of the Lord and law;
            - David, as the one shepherd over them.”
            (St Joseph Weekday Missal)

The prophet foresees a time when the two divided kingdoms of the Jews (Israel/Ephraim and Judah, the Northern and Southern kingdoms) will be united into one and forever and when all those living abroad who belong to Israel will come back. This will be a feature of the Messianic age.

“I shall gather them together from everywhere and bring them home” a sentence which is echoed in the Gospel when John says that Jesus will die “not for the nation only, but to gather together in unity the scattered children of God”. They will give up all their sinful ways and all forms of idolatry and abominations, with which they had been plagued for so many generations, and will be cleansed by God.

“David my servant will be their prince for ever and there shall be one shepherd for them all.” The coming Messianic ruler is called David because he will be a descendant of David and will achieve for Israel what David had - except more fully. He is likened to a shepherd, who cares for his flock, echoing chapter 34 where Yahweh says he will be a shepherd for his people (Ezekiel 34). We recognise Jesus in this ‘Messianic David’ and later Jesus will also call himself the Good Shepherd, protecting his own and looking for those who are lost.

“I shall make a covenant of peace with them, an eternal covenant… I shall set my sanctuary among them forever.” The phrase ‘eternal covenant’ occurs 16 times in the Old Testament, referring to that made with Noah, with Abraham, with David, and a ‘new covenant’ made in Jeremiah (32:40).

The covenant formula is once again repeated: “I will be their God and they will be my people” - a pledge of mutual commitment. It is through Jesus, through the covenant signed by his blood on the cross, that the New Covenant will be ratified and is still in force. With one big difference - it extends now not to one people or race but to the whole world.

“The nations will know that I am Yahweh, the sanctifier of Israel, when my sanctuary is with them forever.” And that ‘sanctuary’ for us is the ongoing and visible presence of the Risen Lord no longer identified with a building but in his People, who are now his Body. “Surely you know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit lives in you” (1 Corinthians 3:16) and “Don’t you know that your body is the Temple of the Holy Spirit, who lives in you?” (1 Cor 6:19). Again, “And the bread we break: when we eat it, we are sharing in the body of Christ. Because there is the one loaf of bread, all of us, though many, are one body, for we all share the same loaf” (1 Cor 10:16-17).

And indeed, as today’s Gospel ends it points to the coming Passover feast when the sacramental celebration of Jesus’ Pasch will be celebrated, that celebration by which we commemorate and make present the inauguration of the New Covenant on Calvary.
+++    +++    +++    +++   
Responsorial Psalm
Jeremiah 31:10, 11-12
The Lord will guard us, as a shepherd guards his flock.

Hear the word of the LORD, O nations,
proclaim it on distant isles, and say:
He who scattered Israel, now gathers them together,
he guards them as a shepherd his flock.
The Lord will guard us, as a shepherd guards his flock.
The LORD shall ransom Jacob,
he shall redeem him from the hand of his conqueror.
Shouting, they shall mount the heights of Zion,
they shall come streaming to the LORD’s blessings:
The grain, the wine, and the oil,
the sheep and the oxen.
The Lord will guard us, as a shepherd guards his flock.
Then the virgins shall make merry and dance,
and young men and old as well.
I will turn their mourning into joy,
I will console and gladden them after their sorrows.
The Lord will guard us, as a shepherd guards his flock.
+++    +++     +++     +++
John 11:45-56
Many of the Jews who had come to Mary
and seen what Jesus had done began to believe in him.
But some of them went to the Pharisees
and told them what Jesus had done.
So the chief priests and the Pharisees
convened the Sanhedrin and said,
“What are we going to do?
This man is performing many signs.
If we leave him alone, all will believe in him,
and the Romans will come
and take away both our land and our nation.”
But one of them, Caiaphas,
who was high priest that year, said to them,
“You know nothing,
nor do you consider that it is better for you
that one man should die instead of the people,
so that the whole nation may not perish.”
He did not say this on his own,
but since he was high priest for that year,
he prophesied that Jesus was going to die for the nation,
and not only for the nation,
but also to gather into one the dispersed children of God.
So from that day on they planned to kill him.

So Jesus no longer walked about in public among the Jews,
but he left for the region near the desert,
to a town called Ephraim,
and there he remained with his disciples.

Now the Passover of the Jews was near,
and many went up from the country to Jerusalem
before Passover to purify themselves.
They looked for Jesus and said to one another
as they were in the temple area, “What do you think?
That he will not come to the feast?”
We are now on the threshold of Holy Week and today’s Gospel sets the stage for the coming events. Today’s Gospel passage is full of irony, where people make statements with a meaning far beyond what they intend to say.

The raising of Lazarus had led many to believe in Jesus but others were alarmed. They went off to the chief priests and asked what was being done to stop this man in his tracks. Their report was serious enough to warrant calling the Sanhedrin, the ruling council of the Jews, into session.

"What are we going to do? This man is performing many signs.” Far from seeing the great significance of the “signs”, they go into a panic. “If we let him go on in this way everybody will believe in him, and the Romans will come and destroy the Holy Place and our nation.”

Of course, what they feared and wanted to stop is exactly what happened. Jesus did go on “in his Way” and the Temple and the nation were destroyed.

Caiaphas, the high priest, moves to quell their fears and then goes on to make his own unwitting prophecy. A gift of prophecy, sometimes unconscious, was attributed to the high priest. He says: “You fail to see that it is better for one man to die for the people, than for the whole nation to be destroyed.” He wants to say that it is better to get rid of Jesus than put the whole nation in jeopardy. In fact, in a very different way, Jesus did die for his own people and John comments that Jesus died not only for the Jewish people but for people everywhere. And it was not for the political preservation of a nation but for the giving of new life to a people where all conventional divisions became irrelevant.

The end for Jesus is coming close so he goes into hiding until the time is ready. Again he goes to Ephraim, a place thought to be about 20 km (12.5 miles) northeast of Jerusalem, where mountains descend into the Jordan valley. It was a remote desert area where Jesus was relatively safe.

As the Passover approaches, people are on the watch for Jesus to appear. Instructions have been given out that any sightings of Jesus were to be reported so that the authorities could arrest him.

Again there is another ironic question: “What do you think? Will he come to the festival or not?” Little did they know that Jesus would be the central character of this Passover and make it the most famous Passover in history.

We are now ready to enter the great finale of Holy Week.

Friday, March 26, 2010

I Tell You Most Solemnly: Before Abraham Came To Be, I AM!

Friday of the Fifth Week of Lent
Reading I
Jeremiah 20:10-13
I hear the whisperings of many:
“Terror on every side!
Denounce! let us denounce him!”
All those who were my friends
are on the watch for any misstep of mine.
“Perhaps he will be trapped; then we can prevail,
and take our vengeance on him.”
But the LORD is with me, like a mighty champion:
my persecutors will stumble, they will not triumph.
In their failure they will be put to utter shame,
to lasting, unforgettable confusion.
O LORD of hosts, you who test the just,
who probe mind and heart,
Let me witness the vengeance you take on them,
for to you I have entrusted my cause.
Sing to the LORD,
praise the LORD,
For he has rescued the life of the poor
from the power of the wicked!
The covenant made between Abraham and God is both sealed and renewed in Jesus Christ.

At the beginning of chapter 17 of Genesis we are told that Yahweh appeared to Abram, now 99 years old, and identified himself as: “I am El Shaddai.” ‘El Shaddai’ was an ancient divine name of the patriarchal period, preserved mainly in the ‘Priestly’ tradition and rarely used outside the Pentateuch (except in Job). The usual translation ‘Almighty God’ is inaccurate; ‘Mountain God’ is the probable meaning.

Yahweh, El Shaddai now promises to make a covenant with Abram and to pledge him a long line of descendants. Abram bows down in deep adoration.

Abram is to become the father of many nations and because of that his name is to be changed from Abram to Abraham. We need to remember that, for the ancients, a name did not merely indicate a person or thing, rather it made a thing what it was, and a change of name meant a change of destiny. Abram and Abraham, it seems, are in fact just two dialectical forms of the same name whose meaning is ‘He is great by reason of his father, he is of noble descent’.

On his side, God makes a solemn commitment to Abraham and to all his descendants in perpetuity to be their God. “I shall make you into nations and your issue will be kings.” There will indeed be a long line of kings - and a very mixed bunch they are. But, no matter how corrupt they might be, the promises made to Abraham continued to be fulfilled. Paul, writing to the Romans, will speak of Abraham’s faith in God’s promise which, by that time, had been so clearly fulfilled.

It is a pledge made forever: “I shall maintain my covenant between myself and you, and your descendants after you, generation after generation, as a covenant in perpetuity to be your God and the God of your descendants after you.” Yahweh further promises to give them the whole land of Canaan to own in perpetuity. A pledge which Christians, unlike some Jews, would now read in a less than literal way.

Finally, Abraham and his descendants are to ratify this covenant on their part are to keep the covenant by their total allegiance to their one and only God.

Abraham, as the Gospel indicates, is regarded as the father of all God’s people. As Matthew’s genealogy indicates, he is the ancestor of Jesus and in Jesus we find the complete fulfilment of the promises made long ago. We read in today’s Gospel: “Your father Abraham rejoiced to think that he would see my Day: he saw it and was glad.” And through Jesus, people everywhere become in a special way children of God.

Let us rejoice in having God as our Father and Jesus as our Brother. We do so by the way we live our lives.
+++    +++    +++     +++
Psalm 18
In my distress I called upon the Lord, and he heard my voice.
I love you, O LORD, my strength,
O LORD, my rock, my fortress, my deliverer.
In my distress I called upon the Lord, and he heard my voice.
My God, my rock of refuge,
my shield, the horn of my salvation, my stronghold!
Praised be the LORD, I exclaim,
and I am safe from my enemies.
In my distress I called upon the Lord, and he heard my voice.
The breakers of death surged round about me,
the destroying floods overwhelmed me;
The cords of the nether world enmeshed me,
the snares of death overtook me.
In my distress I called upon the Lord, and he heard my voice.
In my distress I called upon the LORD
and cried out to my God;
From his temple he heard my voice,
and my cry to him reached his ears.
In my distress I called upon the Lord, and he heard my voice.
+++    +++    +++    +++   
John 10:31-42
The Jews picked up rocks to stone Jesus.
Jesus answered them,
“I have shown you many good works from my Father.
For which of these are you trying to stone me?”
The Jews answered him,
“We are not stoning you for a good work but for blasphemy.
You, a man, are making yourself God.”
Jesus answered them,
“Is it not written in your law, ‘I said, "You are gods"‘?
If it calls them gods to whom the word of God came,
and Scripture cannot be set aside,
can you say that the one
whom the Father has consecrated and sent into the world
blasphemes because I said, ‘I am the Son of God’?
If I do not perform my Father’s works, do not believe me;
but if I perform them, even if you do not believe me,
believe the works, so that you may realize and understand
that the Father is in me and I am in the Father.”
Then they tried again to arrest him;
but he escaped from their power.

He went back across the Jordan
to the place where John first baptized,
and there he remained.
Many came to him and said,
“John performed no sign,
but everything John said about this man was true.”
And many there began to believe in him.
Jesus continues to challenge the Jews about his identity. They continue to misunderstand the real meaning of what he says. “Whoever keeps my word will never see death.” This they can only understand in a literal sense.

But they do see the implication of the words that Jesus is claiming to be more than Abraham or any of the prophets. And they ask: “Who do you make yourself out to be?” This was the same question they asked of John the Baptist (John 1:22) who gave a very different answer.

Jesus makes it perfectly clear to them by talking of his “Father” and then saying that the Father is the one they call “our God”. But he continues by saying that they do not know the Father, although they may think they do. And they do not know the Father because they do not know Jesus. Jesus, however, knows him and keeps his word. Then comes the supreme provocation: “Abraham your father rejoiced to see my day: he saw it and was glad.” (This could be a reference to the joy following the unexpected birth of Isaac, when the promise was made to Abraham that his seed would be as numerous as the sands on the seashore and as the stars in the sky - Gen 17:7; 21:6)

To which the shocked Pharisees retort: “You are not fifty yet, and you have seen Abraham?” only to have Jesus make the ultimate claim: “I tell you most solemnly, before Abraham ever came to be, I AM.” Again we have Jesus using the term “I AM” of himself. He unequivocally identifies himself with Yahweh. The Pharisees are horrified by what they regard as terrible blasphemy. The term ‘came to be’ is used for all that is created, while ‘I AM’ is used only of the Word, co-eternal with the Father-God.

“They took up stones to throw at him…” They were not able actually to carry out their plan to kill him because his “time” had not yet come. Then come words of prophetic significance: “”Jesus hid himself and left the Temple.” It is a striking summary of Jesus’ role.

Jesus “hid himself”. In his humanity, the Godhead in Jesus, which he has just spoken about, was largely concealed (except to those with the eyes of faith). St Ignatius Loyola in his Spiritual Exercises speaks of the divinity being hidden during the terrible hours of the Passion. St Paul in his Letter to the Philippians speaks of Jesus “emptying himself " and taking the form of a slave.

And “he left the Temple”. When Jesus died on the cross, the veil guarding the Holy of Holies in the Temple split right open, revealing the sacred inner sanctuary to the world. God was no longer there, he had left the Temple. And he now dwells in a new Temple, not now a building but a people, the Church, the Body of the Risen Christ.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Behold! I have come to do your will, O God!

Solemnity of the Annunciation of the Lord
Reading I
Isaiah 7:10-14; 8:10
The Lord spoke to Ahaz, saying:
Ask for a sign from the Lord, your God;
let it be deep as the nether world, or high as the sky!
But Ahaz answered,
“I will not ask! I will not tempt the Lord!”
Then Isaiah said:
Listen, O house of David!
Is it not enough for you to weary people,
must you also weary my God?
Therefore the Lord himself will give you this sign:
the virgin shall be with child, and bear a son,
and shall name him Emmanuel,
which means “God is with us!”
+++    +++    +++    +++
Psalm 40
Here I am, Lord; I come to do your will.
Sacrifice or oblation you wished not,
but ears open to obedience you gave me.
Holocausts or sin-offerings you sought not;
then said I, “Behold I come.”
Here I am, Lord; I come to do your will.
“In the written scroll it is prescribed for me,
To do your will, O my God, is my delight,
and your law is within my heart!”
Here I am, Lord; I come to do your will.
I announced your justice in the vast assembly;
I did not restrain my lips, as you, O Lord, know.
Here I am, Lord; I come to do your will.
Your justice I kept not hid within my heart;
your faithfulness and your salvation I have spoken of;
I have made no secret of your kindness and your truth
in the vast assembly.
Here I am, Lord; I come to do your will.
+++    +++    +++    +++   
Reading II
Hebrews 10:4-10
Brothers and sisters:
It is impossible that the blood of bulls and goats
take away sins.
For this reason, when Christ came into the world, he said:

"Sacrifice and offering you did not desire,
but a body you prepared for me;
in holocausts and sin offerings you took no delight.
Then I said, ‘As is written of me in the scroll,
behold, I come to do your will, O God.’”

First he says, “Sacrifices and offerings,
holocausts and sin offerings,
you neither desired nor delighted in.”
These are offered according to the law.
Then he says, “Behold, I come to do your will.”
He takes away the first to establish the second.
By this “will,” we have been consecrated
through the offering of the Body of Jesus Christ once for all.
Luke 1:26-38
The angel Gabriel was sent from God
to a town of Galilee called Nazareth,
to a virgin betrothed to a man named Joseph,
of the house of David,
and the virgin’s name was Mary.
And coming to her, he said,
“Hail, full of grace! The Lord is with you.”
But she was greatly troubled at what was said
and pondered what sort of greeting this might be.
Then the angel said to her,
“Do not be afraid, Mary,
for you have found favor with God.
Behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son,
and you shall name him Jesus.
He will be great and will be called Son of the Most High,
and the Lord God will give him the throne of David his father,
and he will rule over the house of Jacob forever,
and of his Kingdom there will be no end.”
But Mary said to the angel,
“How can this be,
since I have no relations with a man?”
And the angel said to her in reply,
“The Holy Spirit will come upon you,
and the power of the Most High will overshadow you.
Therefore the child to be born
will be called holy, the Son of God.
And behold, Elizabeth, your relative,
has also conceived a son in her old age,
and this is the sixth month for her who was called barren;
for nothing will be impossible for God.”
Mary said, “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord.
May it be done to me according to your word.”
Then the angel departed from her.
Behold! I have come to do your will, O God!(Entrance antiphon)

In a way, this feast should be on a par with Christmas. From one point of view, it is a greater occasion than Christmas. The Child would not have been born if he had not first been conceived. However, even today when the actual moment of conception is not known with accuracy, it is the visible experience of the birth, the coming into the outside world, which makes much greater impact. We all celebrate our birth-day but not our conception-day, even though the latter is the moment when we came to be. Together with the Trinity, an acceptance of the Incarnation is one of the pedestals which defines our Christian faith. It was at the Annunciation that the Incarnation began to become a reality. It was at this moment that “the Word was made flesh and lived among us”. Today should be a special day of praise and thanksgiving for all of us.

This event, in many ways – even for those who do not believe in the Christian message – is one of the major turning points, if not the major turning point, in the history of our planet. It was not only Christians who celebrated our entry into the Third Millennium even though they either denied or ignored or were ignorant of the conception and birth of Jesus which established the occasion.

The Gospel account of this momentous event in one sense owes a great deal to the imagery and prophecies of the Hebrew Testament as well as having a charming simplicity which belies the awesomeness of the occasion. It takes place in the home of a young girl in an obscure town looked down on by many. “Can anything good come from Nazareth?” – surely one of the most ironic questions ever asked.

It is seen as the fulfilment of a prophecy which is found in Isaiah and which forms the First Reading for today. King Ahaz is offered a sign by God which he refuses. God gives him one anyway. This sign will be the birth of a child whose name will be Immanuel, which means ‘God is with us’. Even though Isaiah primarily seems to be speaking of a son for King Ahaz, the solemn name given to the child seems to indicate something more significant, a decisive intervention by God and the sending of a Messiah. So the text has been traditionally taken in the Church as a prophecy for the birth of Christ. The particular words of the prophecy are clearly linked with the Annunciation event. “The Lord himself will give you a sign. It is this: the maiden is with child and will soon give birth to a son, whom she will call Immanuel, a name which means ‘God-is-with-us”. The Greek translation of the Hebrew Testament, known as the Septuagint, reads ‘virgin’ whereas the Hebrew original, almah, can mean a young girl or a recently married woman. The Gospel has adopted the Septuagint meaning and sees in this text a prophecy of the virginal conception of Jesus, which is affirmed in today’s Gospel reading.

Mary, we are told, is already betrothed to a man called Joseph. This means that she is committed to be his wife but they have not come together or had conjugal relations. She is still, as the Gospel states, a virgin.

God’s emissary, the angel Gabriel, enters the house and greets her in words that alarm the young girl: “Rejoice, you who enjoy God’s favour!” The traditional greeting is “Hail, full of grace!” but the Greek chaire implies joy, the joy that the coming of the Messiah brings. And ‘grace’ (charis) is the gratuitous love of God extended to and experienced by the receiver. Mary “was deeply disturbed by these words and asked herself what this greeting could mean”.

But the angel goes on to reassure Mary, although in language that must have mystified her even more. Basically she is being told that she is going to be the mother of a son, whom she is to call Jesus, which means ‘Yahweh saves’. But this is no ordinary son. The angel describes him in extraordinary language which, in fact, recalls many passages from the Hebrew Testament referring to the Messiah. He is to be called Son of the Most High, a title which can mean the divine Son of God or the Messiah. The indications that this Son is the Messiah are indicated by the angel saying that he will be “given the throne of his father David”, that he will “reign forever” and that “his reign will have no end”.

Mary is even more puzzled and disturbed. How can she conceive a son when she has “no knowledge of man”, that is to say, when she has not yet had conjugal relations with her husband-to-be? She clearly understands that the conception is to take place very soon. The angel replies by explaining that “the Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will cover you with its shadow. And so the child will be holy and called Son of God”. The shadow or cloud is the creative and protective presence of the Lord. The conceiving of this child is clearly to be the direct work of the Holy Spirit. The Father is God himself and the child is the divine Son of God, who, while remaining God, will “be made flesh”. From the moment of conception the child is fully God and fully a human person. And the child is called ‘holy’ because, though like us in all things, there was no taint of sin in him. (How could or why would God sin against himself!)

It is doubtful if, even after these explanations, Mary really understood the implications of what she had been told. But she recognised the messenger as coming from God and, in deep faith and trust, accepted what she was being asked to do and be. “You see before you the Lord’s servant, let it happen to me as you have said.” This is Mary’s fiat (‘let it be’, from the Latin version of her words) by which she said an unconditional ‘Yes’ to what God had asked of her.

Later on, when Mary is praised by woman in a crowd for having produced such a wonderful son as Jesus, Jesus had replied, “Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and keep it”. And here is Mary’s true greatness, not so much that she was chosen to be the Mother of God but that she responded with such generosity. And, right up to the very end, she stood by her Son.

And in that she resembles Jesus himself, whose relationship to his Father is described in the Second Reading from the Letter to the Hebrews. The passage speaks of the ineffectiveness of offerings of animals for bringing reconciliation with God. It is the offering by Jesus of his own self totally to his Father which alone is effective. “God, here I am! I am coming to obey your will.” This was the essence of Jesus’ life. There was a struggle at the end as the horrors of the Passion drew near. But, after prayer made in blood and sweat, he surrendered totally: “Not my will but yours be done.” And his last words on the cross were, “It is finished.” He had emptied himself totally and given all to the Father. In this is our salvation.

Mary, too, said that ‘Yes’ in the little house in Nazareth. It was, as was said above, a historic moment in the world’s history. Things would never be the same again.

Let us thank Mary today for her unconditional ‘Yes’ and let us ask her to help us to say our ‘Yes’ to God, today and for the rest of our lives.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

If You Remain In My Word, You Will Know The Truth, And The Truth Will Set You Free.

Wednesday of the Fifth Week of Lent
Reading I
Deuteronomy 3:14-20, 91-92, 95
King Nebuchadnezzar said:
“Is it true, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego,
that you will not serve my god,
or worship the golden statue that I set up?
Be ready now to fall down and worship the statue I had made,
whenever you hear the sound of the trumpet,
flute, lyre, harp, psaltery, bagpipe,
and all the other musical instruments;
otherwise, you shall be instantly cast into the white-hot furnace;
and who is the God who can deliver you out of my hands?”
Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego answered King Nebuchadnezzar,
“There is no need for us
to defend ourselves before you in this matter.
If our God, whom we serve,
can save us from the white-hot furnace
and from your hands, O king, may he save us!
But even if he will not, know, O king,
that we will not serve your god
or worship the golden statue that you set up.”

King Nebuchadnezzar’s face became livid with utter rage
against Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego.
He ordered the furnace to be heated
seven times more than usual
and had some of the strongest men in his army
bind Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego
and cast them into the white-hot furnace.

Nebuchadnezzar rose in haste and asked his nobles,
“Did we not cast three men bound into the fire?”
“Assuredly, O king,” they answered.
“But,” he replied, “I see four men unfettered and unhurt,
walking in the fire, and the fourth looks like a son of God.”
Nebuchadnezzar exclaimed,
“Blessed be the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego,
who sent his angel to deliver the servants who trusted in him;
they disobeyed the royal command and yielded their bodies
rather than serve or worship any god
except their own God.”
Our lives find their center in God; all else takes second place.

Today’s reading comes from a different section of a passage we saw on Tuesday of the 3rd Week in Lent.

King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon had built a golden statue and commanded all his subjects to bow down in adoration before it as a test of loyalty. (Not unlike the requirement that the early Christians had to bow down before an image of the emperor as a sign of abandoning their faith in Christ as Lord.)

Three young Jewish men in the service of the royal court and who were particular favorites of the king for their outstanding qualities refuse to worship the statue. They prefer death rather than turn their back on their God.

In his anger, the king threatens to have them thrown into a white-hot furnace from which no god will save them. The young men calmly reply that either their God will save them, because he can, but, even if he does not, they will still remain steadfast in their trust of God.

The king, now even more angry, has them thrown into a furnace which has been made seven times hotter.

Later, when he makes enquiries, the king finds that the three young men in the company of a fourth are walking unscathed in the fire. The pagan king is deeply moved by what he sees. First, he is filled with admiration for the God that delivered them from certain death and, secondly, he deeply respects the young men who disobeyed him and were ready to sacrifice their lives rather than turn their back on their God. “Blessed be the God of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego,” he exclaims.

The reading is linked with the Gospel in which Jesus speaks of those who are truly descendants of Abraham. If those attacking him were true descendants, then they would recognise Jesus as truly the Son of God. As it is, they show they are not true descendants.

Reflecting on the First Reading I might ask: What are the idols in my life? Is there anything in my life which I would find very difficult to sacrifice if God asked me to give it up? Is there any thing or any person in my life which comes between God and myself?
+++ +++ +++ +++
Daniel 3:52, 53, 54, 55, 56
Glory and praise for ever!
“Blessed are you, O Lord, the God of our fathers,
praiseworthy and exalted above all forever;
And blessed is your holy and glorious name,
praiseworthy and exalted above all for all ages.”
Glory and praise for ever!
“Blessed are you in the temple of your holy glory,
praiseworthy and exalted above all forever.
Glory and praise for ever!
“Blessed are you on the throne of your kingdom,
praiseworthy and exalted above all forever.”
Glory and praise for ever!
“Blessed are you who look into the depths
from your throne upon the cherubim;
praiseworthy and exalted above all forever.”
Glory and praise for ever!
“Blessed are you in the firmament of heaven,
praiseworthy and glorious forever.”
Glory and praise for ever!
+++ +++ +++ +++
John 8:31-42
Jesus said to those Jews who believed in him,
“If you remain in my word, you will truly be my disciples,
and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”
They answered him, “We are descendants of Abraham
and have never been enslaved to anyone.
How can you say, ‘You will become free’?”
Jesus answered them, “Amen, amen, I say to you,
everyone who commits sin is a slave of sin.
A slave does not remain in a household forever,
but a son always remains.
So if the Son frees you, then you will truly be free.
I know that you are descendants of Abraham.
But you are trying to kill me,
because my word has no room among you.
I tell you what I have seen in the Father’s presence;
then do what you have heard from the Father.”

They answered and said to him, “Our father is Abraham.”
Jesus said to them, “If you were Abraham’s children,
you would be doing the works of Abraham.
But now you are trying to kill me,
a man who has told you the truth that I heard from God;
Abraham did not do this.
You are doing the works of your father!”
So they said to him, “We were not born of fornication.
We have one Father, God.”
Jesus said to them,
“If God were your Father, you would love me,
for I came from God and am here;
I did not come on my own, but he sent me.”
The contentious dialogue between Jesus and the Jews continues. There are some sayings here which we would do well to reflect on deeply.

“If you make my word your home, you will indeed be my disciples, you will learn the truth and the truth will make you free.” The Pharisees take umbrage at that statement. As descendants of Abraham they were never slaves to anyone. In fact, in the long history of their people, the Jews were almost continuously enslaved to invading powers. However, the slavery Jesus speaks about is the slavery of sin.

In responding to Jesus’ words, how many of us who want to be disciples of Christ have truly made his word our ‘home’? How many of us have to admit that we are not really very familiar with Jesus’ word in the New Testament? Yet we cannot truly follow him unless we are steeped in that word.

Again, how many of us really believe that the truth about life that is communicated to us through Jesus makes us genuinely free? How many of us experience our commitment to Christianity as a liberation? How many have left the Church because they felt suffocated and wanted to be free? What freedom were they looking for? For many being a Christian is sacrificing freedom in exchange for a promise of a future existence of pure happiness. We can say with confidence that, if we do not find being a Christian a liberating experience here and now, we do not really understand the true nature of our Christian faith.

“If God were your father, you would love me, since I have come from God.” To know Jesus, to love Jesus, to follow Jesus is the way to God and it is in God and only in God that we will find true happiness, freedom, and peace. But the only way to know the truth of that statement is to experience it personally.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

When You Lift Up The Son Of Man, You Will Realize That I AM.

Tuesday of the Fifth Week of Lent
Reading I
Numbers 21:4-9
From Mount Hor the children of Israel set out on the Red Sea road,
to bypass the land of Edom.
But with their patience worn out by the journey,
the people complained against God and Moses,
“Why have you brought us up from Egypt to die in this desert,
where there is no food or water?
We are disgusted with this wretched food!”

In punishment the LORD sent among the people saraph serpents,
which bit the people so that many of them died.
Then the people came to Moses and said,
“We have sinned in complaining against the LORD and you.
Pray the LORD to take the serpents away from us.”
So Moses prayed for the people, and the LORD said to Moses,
“Make a saraph and mount it on a pole,
and whoever looks at it after being bitten will live.”
Moses accordingly made a bronze serpent and mounted it on a pole,
and whenever anyone who had been bitten by a serpent
looked at the bronze serpent, he lived.
The bronze serpent of Moses lifted up is seen as a symbol of Jesus on the Cross.

We see the Israelites on their long journey through the desert to the Promised Land. They are quite near their final goal. In their way stood the territory of Edom. In spite of requests to pass through without causing any trouble, they are turned down.

Moses, however, was determined not to engage Edom in battle and the people became impatient with him and also with God for the direction in which they were being taken. They were full of confidence, having just won a victory over Arad, a territory lying between the Dead Sea and the Mediterranean. They forgot that their victory over Arad had been granted by the Lord in response to a solemn pledge to put a curse on the towns they attacked. But now they had forgotten what they had done with God’s help and were ready to rebel again.

As they make their way to the Sea of Suph, that is, towards the Gulf of Aqaba (at the southern tip of modern Israel) and skirt around Edom, they begin grumbling against God and Moses. They are finding life hard and wish they had never left the slavery of Egypt, which now seems better than what they are going through now.

The focus of their complaints today is especially against the manna, the food that God provided them with six days a week. “We are sick of this meager diet.” Their impatience leads them to blaspheme against Yahweh, to reject Moses and despise the ‘bread from heaven’, the manna which fell every day as God’s gift to them. This was more serious than it might appear. By rejecting the food God was sending to them in abundance, they were rejecting God himself.

Their complaints about the tastelessness of the food represents a kind of tastelessness of their own, their ingratitude to God who fed them in the desert and prevented them from dying of hunger. Thanksgiving to God for his blessings to us is often one of the prayers we make least often.

It is then that God sends a plague of poisonous serpents which kill many people. They are called in Hebrew ‘fiery serpents’ (saraph), from the burning effect of their poisonous bite. (The word ‘seraphim’ comes from the same root.)

The people see in this a punishment from God for their grumbling. “We have sinned by speaking against Yahweh.” They beg Moses to intercede with God on their behalf. Moses is told to mount a bronze serpent on a pole; anyone bitten who looks at it will live. And so it happened.

The significance of this reading is clearly in its being a foreshadowing of Christ on the cross. Later on Jesus will say, “And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the desert, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that those who believe in him may not perish, but may have life everlasting” (John 3:14ff).

The serpent only healed people of the bite of a snake. Later, we are told in the Second Book of the Kings that Hezekiah destroyed the bronze serpent which Moses had made because it had become an object of idolatry.

The life that Jesus gives from the cross is of a totally different kind. And that is what we prepare to celebrate as we come to the end of the Lenten season.
+++    +++    +++    +++   
Psalm 102
O Lord, hear my prayer, and let my cry come to you.
O LORD, hear my prayer,
and let my cry come to you.
Hide not your face from me
in the day of my distress.
Incline your ear to me;
in the day when I call, answer me speedily.
O Lord, hear my prayer, and let my cry come to you.
The nations shall revere your name, O LORD,
and all the kings of the earth your glory,
When the LORD has rebuilt Zion
and appeared in his glory;
When he has regarded the prayer of the destitute,
and not despised their prayer.
O Lord, hear my prayer, and let my cry come to you.
Let this be written for the generation to come,
and let his future creatures praise the LORD:
“The LORD looked down from his holy height,
from heaven he beheld the earth,
To hear the groaning of the prisoners,
to release those doomed to die.”
O Lord, hear my prayer, and let my cry come to you.
+++    +++    +++    +++   
John 8:21-30
Jesus said to the Pharisees:
“I am going away and you will look for me,
but you will die in your sin.
Where I am going you cannot come.”
So the Jews said,
“He is not going to kill himself, is he,
because he said, ‘Where I am going you cannot come’?”
He said to them, “You belong to what is below,
I belong to what is above.
You belong to this world,
but I do not belong to this world.
That is why I told you that you will die in your sins.
For if you do not believe that I AM,
you will die in your sins.”
So they said to him, “Who are you?”
Jesus said to them, “What I told you from the beginning.
I have much to say about you in condemnation.
But the one who sent me is true,
and what I heard from him I tell the world.”
They did not realize that he was speaking to them of the Father.
So Jesus said to them,
“When you lift up the Son of Man,
then you will realize that I AM,
and that I do nothing on my own,
but I say only what the Father taught me.
The one who sent me is with me.
He has not left me alone,
because I always do what is pleasing to him.”
Because he spoke this way, many came to believe in him.
Listening to Jesus, the Pharisees must have thought he was speaking in riddles. This was largely due to their own preconceived ideas about him. They take every statement he makes literally (they are the original Fundamentalists) and miss the symbolism. Basically, their problem is, as Jesus points out, that they “are from below; I am from above”; they “are of this world; I am not of this world”.

John uses the word ‘world’ in two senses. In one meaning he simply is referring to the world that God created with all its variety. Later, he will tell his disciples that, if they want to communicate his message effectively, they will have to be fully inserted in that world, like the leaven in the dough. Separating themselves from that world will not do much for the building of the Kingdom on earth.

The second meaning of ‘world’ for John refers to everything around us which cannot be identified with God or Jesus. It is that part of our environment which speaks and acts in a way that is contrary to the Spirit of Jesus and the vision of Jesus for the world. Jesus does not identify himself with that world nor does he want any of his disciples to identify with it either. Their mission is to change it, to shine his Light on it.

Twice in today’s passage Jesus says of himself “I AM”, an expression we saw yesterday and which was used directly of God himself.

When they “have lifted up the Son of Man”, then they will know who Jesus really is and that everything that Jesus has said and done comes from God himself because, as he will say later, “I and the Father are one”. “Lifted up” not only refers to Jesus being lifted up on the cross but also includes the glorification of Jesus, his lifting up to sit at the Father’s right hand. For John the cross is Jesus’ moment of glory, the triumphant climax of his mission.

And, because of these words, we are told, “many” came to believe in him but most of the Pharisees were not among them.

This is a time for us also to examine our allegiance to Christ and what he means for us in our lives. Is our following of him truly a healing and liberating experience not only for ourselves but for others as well?